Anyone who has ever read a book with a child knows the power and the magic of illustrations in children’s literature. The artwork in a picture book is as much a part of its draw and engagement as is the text. Illustrations are often a reader’s initial point of contact with a work, and they bring the author’s words to life, capturing the imagination of the reader. A picture book uses images along with text to tell a story. Pictures, in many cases, make the work more approachable and the message more accessible. For example, the simple, engaging images in Mo Williems’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (2004) alongside relatable text, invite the reader to become an active participant within story. The Randolph Caldecott Medal honors picture books and the power of images to tell a story in equal measure with the text.
The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) began awarding the Caldecott Medal in 1937 to honor American picture books in the same way that the Newbery medal acknowledges accomplishments in children’s literature. Initially, books could only be evaluated for one award or the other, but this rule changed in 1977. While one book is chosen to win the Caledecott Medal, other honor books are also selected and noted by the committee each year. The award was named for Randolph Caldecott, a notable children’s illustrator from the nineteenth century. The actual medal depicts one of his characteristically humorous illustrations. It is a bronze medal, engraved with the winner’s name and the date presented.
ALSC has established specific terms for eligibility and selection. These rules are published on The American Library Association’s (ALA’s) website. In order for books to be considered, they must be original works published by and an American publisher in English during the previous year. Artists must be citizens or residents of the United States. This award is limited to picture books distinguished by excellence and distinctiveness. ALA further describes excellence in terms of execution, interpretation, appropriateness, communication of ideas, and “recognition of a child audience” (American Library Association, 2018). Additionally, ALSC notes that the honors are awarded on quality, not necessarily popularity of a work. Selection and evaluation are made by a committee. Books may be submitted for consideration by December 31st of the publication year, and awards are announced in late January.
Librarians specializing in youth librarianship would be particularly well suited to evaluating works for this award because of their experience with children’s literature and children’s responses to literature. I chose this award to discuss as part of my course work in Literature for Youth because of my personal affinity for picture books. My experiences as a reader, a teacher, and as a mother, have shown me the power of visual art to capture a child’s imagination, and to evoke emotion responses and personal connections to a story. Some of my personal favorite Caldecott winners and honorees include The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, illustrated by Melissa Sweet and written by Jen Bryant in 2015, Rosa illustrated by Bryan Collier and written by Nikki Giovanni in 2006, and of course, the aforementioned Mo Williems book Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.
American Library Association. (2018). The Randolph Caldecott Medal. Retrieved June 5, 2018, from http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/caldecottmedal/aboutcaldecott/aboutcaldecott